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Poora Gyan (Complete Knowledge)
|by Prof. Shubha Tiwari|
A Bold Jatak Katha Retold by Intizar Husain
Intizar Husain’s short story, ‘Complete Knowledge’ is a beautifully and effectively written short story in the tradition of ‘Jatak Katha’. All Jataka tales narrate a moral tale through the experiences of a Bodhisattva, one destined to enlightenment.
The tradition of ‘Katha Vaachan’ where a learned speaker tells a tale of knowledge and wisdom to attentive and eager listeners is based on stories of Hindu mythology. It is a pleasant surprise for the reader to find Intizar Husain using the tradition of Hindu mythological narrative telling in such an easy, effortless and simple manner. Trust and mutual regard between the narrator and listeners is the key to this tradition. The listeners believe in the superior knowledge of the narrator and accept it. The narrator knows the attitude of the listeners, and speaks purely out of the intention to benefit, inspire and train the listeners. As it is, nothing in traditional Indian culture and religion is ever practiced without any eye for utility. The vision is that of totality, merger, osmosis and synthesis. Everything, be they rituals, hymns, practices, ceremonies- everything comes packed with a purpose.
The narrative of Intizar Husain in this story is cute for its simplicity. The wayward son of a Brahmin undergoes a headlong change of heart with just a few simple words of his father, ‘Son, we are Brahmins. Knowledge is our wealth. Wisdom is our ornament. a Brahmin must be a man of learning.’
His father’s words pierced Manohar’s heart like a spear. He renounced all his pleasures and bent over his books. He read the Vedas, the Puranas, the Ramanaya, and the Mahabharata; he read everything. In a short while he became a learned man.’(22) How one wishes that life could be so simple where you say a few words to your son and he metamorphoses into a sincere boy ! In this post-modern world of doubt and rebellion, and multiple layers of meanings, this Katha came to me as a gust of fresh wind. Here was a narrative that meant exactly what it said; I did not have to go on searching for unsaid messages as usually the post- modernist texts require that exercise.
The story is simply marvelous for many reasons. It begins with a loaded sentence, ‘Manohar sat out on one path, but ended by taking an entirely different one.’(22) How true it is for life! One hardly knows where one is going. You intend to do one thing but life presents something entirely different. Manohar is set on the path of knowledge by his father. Manohar feels that his knowledge is immense but the great indicator of unexplored knowledge comes from his father, ‘And what about the things that haven’t been written?’(22) Then follows a period of wandering for Manohar. A small but very significant paragraph symbolizes Manohar’s quest but also the eternal human un-fulfillment, the longing, the craving. Then comes another archetypal thirst quenching scene. A beautiful woman makes Manohar conscious of his thirst. Needless to say that this thirst is not only that of water. Manohar did not know that he was thirsty. It is the sight of the woman that makes him know his needs. But without fully realizing the meaning of this meeting, Manohar leaves her for acquiring knowledge. His soul remains restless as ever.
Manohar keeps roaming, searching, seeking, hungering for finding a meaning in life. This wandering, as myth critics tell us, has a deep embedded appeal for the collective psyche. Even the civilized man of today dreams of the nomadic wanderer going about caves, mountains, rocks and cliffs innovating, thinking and making life possible for himself. Manohar finally finds a Guru, whose name (as everything else in the story is very conventional and expected) is Sampoornanandji. His name means ‘complete bliss’. Let us see as to what happens to his complete bliss.
Manohar asks the guru to give him peace of mind. The guru promptly tells him that peace blossoms from within and can be achieved only by meditation. For years together Manohar sits in meditation. But the thought of that voluptuous lady never leaves him. His meditation proves to be as futile as ever. At last, admitting defeat, he sits at the feet of his guru and begs him to give him gyan (enlightenment). Then follows a cycle of stories within the story. Guruji tries to improve Manohar by giving examples. Then come four stories of King Harcharan, Prajapati and Usha, Rishi Parashar and Vishvamitra and Menaka.
Manohar, however, fails to grasp anything and his yearning for the woman of his dreams increases day by day, moment by moment. The Guru gets fed up with the foolish boy and dismisses him. Manohar goes to the woman who had haunted him for years and unites with her. He blissfully lives with her. One day he recalls his father’s words and returns to the guru for ‘gyan’. The guru, however himself was undergoing great mental turmoil regarding Manohar’s behavior and the fall of so many sanyasies (ascetics) because of the mysterious power of women. Sampoornanandji was agitated. When Manohar comes to him, he is startled by the serene, peaceful, gratified look of Manohar’s beautiful face. Making Manohar sit at his place of worship, the Guru goes is search of a woman! The words of Sampoornanand that are refreshingly modern and flexible in approach are, ‘Who has ever attained complete knowledge? Human beings must search for ever.’(32) Human existence is always incomplete. Half-ness, craving, lacking, imperfection- these are human life. There is no need to force an unnatural roundness, and completion to anything related to human existence. There is no destination; the journey is the end. Defects are to be celebrated. The best that a human being can do is to keep on living, searching a meaning to life without losing hope and conviction. My pleasure in reading this story is that I did not expect such post-modernist message in a Jatak Katha.
This story written by Intizar Husain in 1960 and based on ancient Indian Jatak Kathas is so wonderfully open and trendy in its attitude. While the story goes on, the reader feels (especially if she is a woman) the depressing blames put on women. A woman simply exists. She does not do anything. and yet she is held responsible for all misery and vices in the world. Needless to say that the ideas look bogus, off beat, rotten, unfair and dogmatic. They choke a woman as a sex object; her very being, her body and breathing are held her crimes. But the end is to nice; it is simply superb. The mouth that poured venom on the woman at last craves for her. The creature that Sampoornanand cursed beckons him commandingly and he goes. However, the narrative attempts no hint at the will and wish of the woman concerned. The choice is all man’s. The big question is whether a man should go to a woman or not; the thought that woman may also want to make her choices regarding her physical life and regarding her partner never occur to the writer. that a woman may also like to reject a relationship is nowhere in the mental makeup of the writer and it is quite natural. No one ever bothered about the likes and dislikes, whims and wishes, views and vows of a woman. There is no point in doing a feminist dissection of the piece.
On one hand, the end reinforces the fearful power of women, on the other hand, it tells us not to comment on things that we do not know. You have first to experience a thing in order to analyze it.
The traditional wisdom, Eastern, or Western, never fails to emphasize on the corrupting influence of women over guileless men. According to it, women compel men to deviate from the noble path. A woman is a distraction. Eve came under the influence of the infernal serpent, and forced innocent Adam to eat the forbidden apple and go against the divine will. Menaka ruined Vishvamitra’s meditation, and thereby his future prospects of attaining godhood. The examples are numerous. Bhartihari writes in Shatakatrayam,
Similarly Rig Veda says, ‘...with women there can be no lasting friendship; their hearts are the hearts of jackals.’ (Quoted by Varma and Mulchandani)
The stories of Husain and this story in particular underline a fundamental principal of life that the most difficult thing in this life is to be easy, simple and good. The ordinary things are not all that ordinary. Life is all about making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, being kind to others, not to burn in revenge and hatred all the time, and enjoy doing common things. Religion, philosophy, rituals, nationhood, identity- all these concepts are valid only when they spread love, peace, and make life livable. If religion, and ideology break the social fabric and mental peace of individuals, they are useless.
‘In Intizar Husain’s rendering of the Jatakas, one is at first enchanted by the tranquility of the forest and by the silence of the bhikshus who walk through them. Unlike the listeners of the old Jatakas, we are located in world which is noisy and agitated. Intizar Husain startles us by reminding us of the fact that even though we live in cities, the realm of trees, birds, rivers, animals, and the sky is in our neighbourhood and that we are both dependent on it and responsible for it... In the old Jatakas, such a lesson would have been enough to make people see, in the world around them, signs of the divine presence. The pilgrims of Intizar Husain, however are like us...
Sampoornanand has no answer to raw sexuality. His ‘gyan’ proves inadequate in dealing with the demands of the body. But the funniest part is that sexuality has been bracketed with evil. My argument is against this is a foolish presumption. The whole Indian psyche is pervaded by concepts of evil, sin, guilt and fall when it comes to man-woman relationship. The healthy spirit of sharing, understanding, intimacy, caring and reciprocity is totally missing. Man-woman relationship is weighed in terms of domination, exploitation, power, money, winning and losing. Emotions have been thrown out of the window. Relationships are bound to prove inadequate and unsatisfying in such a scenario. Although much has changed; still unfortunately basic Indian mentality remains the same.
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Comments on this Article
Prof. Shubha Tiwari
09/21/2011 11:55 AM
09/20/2011 08:45 AM
Prof. Shubha Tiwari
09/20/2011 00:56 AM
09/19/2011 10:22 AM